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Board of Education Meeting Highlights - September 28, 2016


Professional Learning Communities

The elementary principals came to the meeting for a conversation about the work that is taking place this year to move Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) forward in the district. Our schools have more than a decade of experience with PLCs, which are teams of professionals who come together to systematically and continuously examine current student learning and data and then target instruction based on this work. Last year, the principals and a teacher from each elementary school traveled to New Hampshire to look at a school that has been recognized for the effectiveness of its PLC model. This year, our elementary schools are implementing a more formal version of PLCs - building on what has been learned from recent years, including the New Hampshire visit and the work of a districtwide PLC Committee.

The model and grade levels involved vary by building this year. Generally, grade level teams of teachers and professionals are working together during dedicated PLC meeting times to make plans for cycles of instruction that will focus on helping students build skills in particular areas. This instruction will take place during a dedicated block of time known as WIN (What I Need). During weekly PLC meetings, students either have an additional recess opportunity or time for more independent work or classroom activities, depending on the school. Principals and teachers from all of the elementary schools will be discussing what they are learning from the various models this year to develop more cohesive approach across the elementary level for the future.


Capital Project Planning Items

The Board approved a contract with the architectural firm CS Arch for the upcoming capital project, expected to be voted on by the community on Dec. 6. This first phase will include priority health, safety and infrastructure projects identified in last year's building condition survey. The plan is to take care of those projects that can be done in the near-term with a minimal tax impact. At Wednesday's meeting, the Board also passed a required procedural resolution, in accordance with the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA), to declare that the project will have no negative environmental impact.

At the Board's next meeting - now scheduled for Monday, Oct. 17 - it is expected to approve the resolutions needed to hold the Dec. 6 vote. More information will be shared with our school community in the weeks ahead.


Board Meeting Schedule Changes

Both originally scheduled October meetings have now been combined into a single meeting at 6 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 17, as noted above. This is a regular business meeting, which will include the capital project and other items. Superintendent Cosimo Tangorra, Jr. said a scheduling change was necessary because the first October meeting was inadvertently scheduled on the evening that observance of Yom Kippur begins, a conflict that is important to avoid.

The meeting originally scheduled for Oct. 25 will not be held. The Nov. 15 meeting has now been moved to the high school and will include the new teacher reception and Board of Education recognition.


High School Geothermal System Update

Dr. Tangorra reported that this summer's test flush of a portion of the high school geothermal system was successful. This part of the system has been brought back online. The remainder of the system will be flushed next summer. This means that the high school will likely be very warm next summer, but after that, it should operate in an effective and efficient manner as intended. The cost for next summer's work has not changed and is estimated at about $330,000.


College Credit Report

Dr. Tangorra reported that through 23 University in the High School courses, more than 700 Niskayuna High School students registered for college credit-bearing courses last year. Students obtained a total of 2,363 credits, saving a potential total of $347,361 for Niskayuna families.


Online Returning Student Registration

Dr. Tangorra reported that nearly 80 percent of families districtwide have completed the new online returning student registration process. The response rate varies by school, from between 72 percent and 87 percent. Of those who have completed it, between 88 percent and 97 percent have opted into the PTO directory. The district is continuing its outreach for the online registration form and is beginning to make phone contact with families who have not yet submitted it.


Code of Conduct Reporting

The revisions to the school and athletic codes of conduct this year included a new provision for reporting violations in aggregate. Dr. Tangorra outlined the process that has been developed for this. After each athletic season (in November, March and June), middle and high school principals and the Athletic Department will develop a report for the previous season that includes the number of alleged violations and times the codes were applied. June will be a year-end report that also includes Code violation at the school level. Additionally, the district is involved in a State Education Department pilot program for a school climate tool that may also provide data for the end-of-year report.


Strategic Plan Update

Dr. Tangorra provided an update on activities and initiatives taking place under the strategic plan developed last year. He plans to work with the Leadership Team to connect annual district and school goals to the plan. As part of the update, Dr. Tangorra referenced the following initiatives and future priorities within the three pillars of the plan:

Curriculum and Programs: Instructional Program Advisory Council (IPAC); District Curriculum and Assessment Council (DCAC); and Curriculum Design Initiative;

Environment and Culture: Environment and Culture Committee and ongoing subcommittee work to draft a Diversity Statement for the district; and expanding the focus to address the stress and pressure students feel; and

Partnerships: Partnerships supporting academic programs and school culture continue to be initiated and strengthened, including relationships with the Wisdom Group in China, the Roosevelt Institute, the Anti-Defamation League, N-CAP, higher education partners, the Division of Human Rights, and more.


Policy Review

The Board is reviewing policies at each meeting as it transitions to a new policy manual. At the meeting, it adopted Policy 5681 - School Safety Plans and Policy 5683 - Fire and Emergency Drills, Bomb Threats, and Bus Emergency Drills.

The Board conducted a first reading of Draft Policy - 5640 Smoking/Tobacco Use and Draft Policy 7320 - Alcohol, Drugs and Other Substances.


Board Member Reports

Audit Committee Update - The Audit Committee met last Friday to review the independent audit for the 2015-16 year. It is a clean opinion. Congratulations to Director of Business and Finance Carrie Nyc-Chevrier and the Business Office staff their work to address audit exceptions cited over the years. The audit will be filed with the state by the Oct. 15 deadline and presented at a future Board meeting. Four community members have applied for the two seats on the Audit Committee that are reserved for non-Board members. Title IX compliance has been selected for the district's annual risk assessment.

Commissioner's Forum - Board members attended a forum with state Commissioner of Education MaryEllen Elia this week. Her remarks focused on the learning standards review process. Board members and Dr. Tangorra noted that the commissioner has been responsive to educators in the field and parents. They are concerned about a backlog in the engineering review for voter-approved capital projects at the State Education Department.

Development - The Craig PTO has discussed how proposed development might affect space in the schools. Dr. Tangorra said the district is monitoring development and will be working with all four towns in the district to stay appraised of current and future plans.

JCC Kid's Time Inclusive Afterschool Program - The district is involved in a partnership Schenectady JCC Kid's Time and Living Resources that is resulting in a new, inclusive afterschool program at Rosendale that is expected to begin this fall.


Additional Board Meeting Highlights

  • Each year at the annual conference of the New York State School Boards Association (NYSSBA), Board members from around the state decide on resolutions that represent the organization's position on legislative priorities and policy issues. Board members have reviewed the proposed resolutions and member Jack Calareso will represent the Board at this session.
  • The Board appointed district resident and parent Tracy Cazer to the Education Enrichment Fund Advisory Committee, and reappointed several committee members whose two-year terms are expiring.
  • The Consent Agenda was approved as presented.